Posted in Faith

Newness- the ultimate gift of Christ

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to share a smidge of my testimony at our church’s women’s breakfast.  Every woman who showed up, I have encountered at some point in my seven-year time frame of attending.  Some of them were acquaintances, and some have become dearly loved soul sisters.  All of them I consider to be friends.

Before the breakfast, as women often do, we stood around talking.  The dynamic, however was beautiful.  Instead of just certain clusters of chatty Cathys with some oddballs hanging out, there were intimate groups of two or three women talking, and then gradually one woman would step out of that small group and encounter another woman and start another two- or three-person cluster.  Each conversation was deep and personal, and as another woman came through the door, she was greeted with hugs, laughter and “so glad you’re here!”  It was beautiful that not one woman would be left standing awkwardly.  We all sensed the need to be greeted and hugged and whoever saw it first, just jumped to meet the need.  

Can I just say that I see Jesus in those moments?  Are we not all waiting for that greeting when we will be hugged by our Father, and our tears will be wiped away?  What a gift in our humanness, to do that for each other now, while we wait… 

Our focus verse for the breakfast was 2 Corinthians 5:17: 

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.

 

This Scripture verse spoke to my heart in an intense way when I was coming back to my faith in Jesus at age 27.  Leaving my first husband and being alone for the first time in my life scared me immensely and I did much to NOT BE ALONE.  And more than anything, my shame and sin covered me so thickly.  I got to a point of thinking I wasn’t redeemable, wasn’t lovable, and wasn’t worthy of anything, let alone anyone.  

Reading and rereading our focus verse brought back so many memories from my first apartment, and my fallen nature, that I cried fresh tears of thankfulness to God.  And I was asked to share some of those memories with my dear, precious sisters on Saturday.

We gathered at our tables with our breakfast and coffee, snuggled in and put our focus on our leader.  She lovingly mentioned that I had offered to share part of my story with the group, about being a new creation.  And before I began, a dear friend of mine said that she would like to say some words about me.  The picture on the front of our bookmarks were of a closed tulip.  ImageThis woman said that when she first met me, she saw me as this tulip, protective and closed. But as she got to know me, she also was present through some healing that God had been doing in my life, and saw that as I continued to surrender to Christ, that He was changing me into a much more open person, and my guard was coming down.  

I was completely blessed by her words.  

In the past when I have been asked to do something out of my comfort zone, Satan loves to get me anxious and nervous, and each time I have to talk myself off the ledge, stating that I know who I am in Christ, that I was asked to do A, B, or C because God will make me capable, and that somewhere throughout my day, someone will be blessed by what I have to say.  

Saturday morning was no different.  My armpits were on overdrive as I was anticipating my introduction.  Ugh…how I wish those parts of our body weren’t glands…

And yet, as my dear friend spoke, I felt God melting me, reminding me, showing me that I had indeed progressed imperfectly (thanks Lysa Terkeurst) closer to my Lord in obedience.  Another of my girlfriends said that she had seen the same things with me, that I was protective, and quiet, but I have changed.  And my guard came down.  

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A beautiful part of that morning was that sharing my story came so naturally.  Though I felt myself fumbling over some of the timing and details, I shared when I had left my ex-husband and went through some darkness and how I answered Christ’s call on my life by surrendering myself to Him and giving up the parts of me that I knew just kept repeating failure after failure.  I saw tears in the eyes of my friends.  Sorrow tears as they walked through some of my past pain, and joy tears when I proclaimed that I was new, that I no longer was defined by old Grace.  

There is such joy in redemption.  We just celebrated the resurrection of our Lord a week ago Sunday.  But the benefits of His life, death and resurrection are limitless to all of us now.  They don’t stop on a random Sunday when we shout ALLELUIA…we are taught through Scripture that, “The steadfast love of the Lord NEVER CEASES, His mercies are new EVERY MORNING” (Lamentations 3:22-23).  And it is because of the LOVE of God, that we can even have HOPE in our hearts.  

Failures turn to victories…struggles become stepping stones…and GOD’S GRACE MAKES ALL OF US NEW!  Let’s appreciate the tulips (or any flowers for that matter) that remind us of a time that we were different, closed, protective, and embrace the SONlight of Jesus, who opens our petals and brings life to the parts of us that have died, not to be alive as the old parts, but as the new creations He is making us!  

 

 

 

Posted in Faith

Saying Yes to God

Wow, it’s truly been an amazing seven months and I haven’t blogged about any of it!  I apologize for that.  This year has truly been one of learning and growth, and love and surrender.  Much will come soon.

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To briefly share an update, I’m currently doing an online bible study that is opening my eyes to so many things. The book that is being used is shown above.  I decided to join the online study through Proverbs 31 Ministries because of the freedom of not having to do the study at a set time.  It allows me to do the study at my own pace, and I love things like that [online college student here as well- 😉 ].

We’re currently in week one, after reading the first chapter regarding a “soul that longs for more” and in that first chapter, Lysa described a time that God asked her to step out of her comfort zone and give away her well-worn and personal bible to a complete stranger on a plane.  Her reaction at first was the same as ours would have been, to question God and wonder if we’d heard Him right.  But when it was clear that THAT was exactly what God was asking her to do, she surrendered.  She gave it to the man, stating God had told her to give it to him, and that sometimes God pauses to touch the heart of one person, and it was him.  The man went on to become a believer in Jesus Christ, and has since shared his testimony with seemingly everyone he encounters.

In reviewing and rereading that story (up to five times-it just strikes me differently each time), I felt prompted to answer one of the suggested questions and write about a time that struck me as COMPLETELY stepping out of my comfort zone, for God’s glory.

I am a stepmother.  I have married a man who had an already existing family and became one of them.  This also means that there is a biological mother in the picture.  And as many other blended families go, ours is similar in the fact that she and I have not seen eye to eye in the past.  In fact, there have been many difficult exchanges, and emotional arguments that brought nothing but heartache to both sides.  Since about a year ago, it has become my new law to not engage with the bio mother, for frustration with miscommunications and lack of closure when something is taken the wrong way.  It’s just not worth it.  We’re like oil and water.

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One thing I know I have in common with this woman (whom we will call “M”) is a love for dogs.  She and my two stepdaughters had a black lab that was about six years old last year.  She was spunky, loved to play and fetch tennis balls, and was a great companion to their mom when the girls were with us.

Sadly, and completely unexpectedly one morning last November, our youngest (whom we will call K2) woke up to her beloved dog breathing oddly.  She shared her panic with her mother, who rushed the dog to the vet and within an hour, their pooch ended up dying there.  M and the girls were completely distraught.  Our eldest, K1, was working, and was told while on her shift about the dog’s passing.  How dreadful!

I was a wreck, as my husband called me at work to let me know, and I couldn’t stop crying, as I know how much M and the girls loved this dog.  I was in shock, and completely heartbroken simply because they were.

God began to tell me that this could be an opportunity to help M and the girls heal.  “I’m sorry, Lord…what!?”  How could a dog dying help M’s and my relationship (or lack of)?  And seriously, the woman can’t stand me, so how in the world can my understanding of her pain, help her?  She wants nothing to do with me, and I’m sure could care less that I care about her.  It made no sense.

So I listened, and God made it clear he wanted me to offer for the girls to stay home that night, if they wanted, instead of coming to our house as the schedule normally stated.

I went into “other shoes” mode.  When some situations are unclear to me, I try to put myself in other peoples’ shoes, to stay humble, and to give God an opportunity for me to see past myself. I imagined M being alone, crying all day and questioning, and just wanting to hold her girls.

I know M’s email address, so I sent her an email to let her know that Kevin had told me the news, that I was sorry and if there was anything I could do, to let us know.  Normally any communication sent by me to her is ignored and she refuses to acknowledge it.  Much to my surprise, she responded that they were heartbroken and she thanked me.

WHAT!?!!?

Was the wall coming down, or was she just vulnerable and thankful?  I tried to make no assumption, and just be thankful that she responded.

From my desk at work, I texted my husband about offering for the kids to stay with their mom, who said he agreed, and he offered.  Both girls declined and said that they still wanted to come over.  I don’t know their reasons, and won’t assume any.  They both deal with death and stress differently.

I was shocked, and thought, oh no, M will have to be alone all night.  So I just prayed.  I prayed for God to comfort her, for people to surround her, to give her His peace.  The kids came to our home later that day, were very quiet and laid on the couch.  Kevin and I just let them know how sorry we were and let them cry. I rubbed K2’s back while she laid with her face buried in the couch cushions.  K1 clung to her daddy.  I’m not sure we did much talking that evening.

And over the course of the next two days, God was telling me to step out of my comfort zone and show M that I cared about her loss.  I was wrestling with God about it, because any encounter with M usually starts and ends with awkward silence and staring/glaring.  It’s quite painful, and irritating.  So, in telling God I wanted to stay away and not “poke the bear”, He urged me to do what I normally do when friends have a loss: get them a card, explain my heartache with them, and give them a gift.

“You’re insane, Lord…simply insane.  You know she hates me, right?”

Randomly driving down the street Friday afternoon, I laughed at God.  I laughed out loud.  In my head, I pictured getting M a poinsettia and a card, and giving it to her.  And I laughed, because we don’t even go near each other unless we have to.  And she’s not my friend.  I would love for things to be cordial and friend-like, but the truth is there’s no acceptance on the other side.  I couldn’t possibly show her love in her brokenness.  How in the world would I give her a gift, a card and let her know my sympathy?

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And Saturday morning came…I was to pick up K2 and we were going to head to Nana’s for our Thanksgiving dinner with her.  Kevin and K1 were working and would come later.  Seeing as how I had to go get K2, it meant I would be in the vicinity of M.  Whoa…really, Lord?  I have to go to her house?  So instead of turning left to go to her home, my car went to the right…in the direction of the grocery store…

God led me to the card section, and I still couldn’t believe I was doing it.  I found a card that said exactly what I wanted it to say (imagine that) and I picked out a gorgeous poinsettia.  I was elated at the idea (I’m always hopeful), yet so nervous even paying for the items.  How ridiculous, right?

So I drove to M’s house and started brainstorming.  Do I just leave the plant and card by the front door?  Do I knock?  Good Lord, I can’t knock…what if she doesn’t answer?  I hate rejection!!  Lord…do you know what you’re asking me to do??

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I pulled into the driveway and texted K2 that I was there.  I had our greyhound/lab in the backseat, next to the plant.  And I began questioning, “How do I get the plant to the door?  Maybe I’ll just give it to K2 and she can take it in…yeah, she can do it, it’ll be nicer coming from her…”  And as these thoughts are coming, the side door opens and M comes out, not K2.

OH…CRAP…

I’ve got a gorgeous plant in the backseat, our dog, and a card on the front seat.  M didn’t look into my car, she walked down the driveway past  my car, and went to the mailbox.  I got this urgent PUSH from the Holy Spirit!!

ImageI grabbed the card from the seat next to me, and the plant from the backseat and met M as she was coming back up the drive.  She was wrapped in a blanket, and tears were just pouring down her face.  I almost lost it!  I handed her the card and the plant and fumbled with words.

“M, I am so sorry…I got you this.  I can’t stop thinking about you guys…”  She just looked at me with tears and sadness, and said, “We are so heartbroken!”  I choked up…and I reached out my hand.  I wanted to hug, but she’s not a hugger (certainly not with me), so instead, I put my hand on her shoulder and said, “I’ll be praying for you.”

At this time, K2 emerged from the side door, and was just standing there.  Later I found out she was saying inside of her head, “Oh wow, are they going to hug?”

While K2 was putting her book bag in the car, M leaned in through the back window to pet my Bella.  I really choked up, because I know how much she was missing her girl.  And I just said again before pulling away, “I’m sorry.”

Now unlike Lysa’s story, I have no idea what happened after I followed the prompting of the Holy Spirit.  I have no clue if M was thankful, or touched, or anything.  I don’t know if she kept the card, hung it up, or burned it.  And I don’t have to worry about any of that.  I did what was asked, and I have to leave it at that.

The eldest, when she got to Nana’s that night, said what I had done for her mom was extremely nice.  I just know I went out of my way to do something I REALLY didn’t want to do, for the sake of showing love to someone who needed it.

I was myself, I was obedient, and I was blessed.  Out of this study, I’m learning that EVERY SINGLE DAY is a chance to show love to someone who doesn’t deserve it.  Every single day is an opportunity to show God we are listening and to be obedient to whatever His call may be.  From paying for the person in the toll booth behind you, to holding the door for someone, to giving a card to someone who needs it, to pushing aside years of hate and anger because we all have moments of loss.

God has a strong desire to show each and every one of us HIS LOVE.  And for those of us who sit in pews, who sing hymns, who serve our communities, if we are not showing LOVE for the sake of Christ’s kingdom, it means nothing.

1 Corinthians 13 is known as the love chapter.  But the first three verses are crucial to understanding LOVE at all.  They talk about believers doing all of the necessary things that would seem to show the world our commitment to Christ, but if we do ANY of those things without LOVE, it is meaningless.  See below:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

May I invite you to turn an ear toward Heaven, to reach out with willing arms, to look past previous hurts to the One who already died and rose for those hurts, and to simply say YES?  “Yes, Lord, I will do what you have asked.”

How many moments slip by that could change the life of another human being?  How many opportunities are presented to us, and we let fear override our love button because we don’t want the rejection?  How many times have we said NO?

I’m turning my #palmsup to my King, and letting go, so He can place something inside of my hands that far surpasses what I held onto in the first place.  And I’m rejoicing with my over 10,000 sisters in Christ who are on this “letting go and saying yes to God” journey.   These next few weeks may be incredibly painful, but I am assured and confident that our Lord will reveal His true self to us.  We just have to have our hands open!